Discipline Drives Digital Excellence in Pharma

Executive Summary

A new wave of technology innovation is pushing the boundaries of digital excellence in the pharmaceutical industry. But as the technology advances, firms become ever more ambitious —and the net effect is that the goal of mastering digital excellence across the organization only seems to get further and further away. To accelerate their progress toward digital excellence, firms need to recognize that they must manage the journey with great discipline, focusing on increasing the entire company’s knowledge of and sense of urgency about digital.

Companies surveyed for this report: AbbVie, Astellas Pharma, AstraZeneca, Baxter, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Genzyme, GlaxoSmithKline, Leo Pharma, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Shire, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, UCB Pharma

Digital Excellence Ambitions Thrive as Technology Advances

Digital excellence is a firm’s ability to use digital media and technology to work with customers and consistently create business and customer value. Pharmaceutical firms are recognizing that doing business with customers digitally generates enormous opportunity. Earlier this year, Novartis and Qualcomm Ventures partnered to set up a $100 million fund to explore how mobile and digital technology can change the way healthcare is delivered to patients. More recently, Biogen and Google announced a formal collaboration to use sensor technology and big data analysis to study the development of multiple sclerosis. DT’s most recent poll found that, with respect to the digital excellence opportunity, digital leaders at large pharmaceutical companies are focusing on:

  • Customer experience (CX) management. Last year, we spotted a few visionaries who were taking CX design and management seriously. This year, almost everyone has jumped on the CX bandwagon (sometimes calling it “customer engagement” or “customer excellence”). Multichannel and digital teams are frantically road-showing customer journey maps, persona-driven design, and voice of the customer programs—claiming an even bigger remit for digital excellence.
  • Digitally empowered sales reps. Several firms are executing large-scale CRM implementation programs and fine-tuning their tablet detailing platforms to give field teams options to communicate with their customers beyond face-to-face meetings. Others are taking it a step further, building even more digital capability to fulfill their vision of automated customer communication based on a predefined, orchestrated customer journey that seamlessly integrates different channels and promotional tactics.
  • Content excellence. Almost all pharma firms recognize the power of differentiating content in customer interactions. A few are putting their money where their mouth is, instituting a separate content center of excellence or a dedicated workstream. Others are focusing on their back office, installing digital asset management tools or optimizing content workflows to make it easier to share content across the company, simplify content usage with dynamic (pre)approval, or better coordinate content between HQ and local brand teams.
  • Digital-infused R&D. While most digital leaders are making it a priority to optimize their commercial model with digital or multichannel capabilities, only a few are actively considering a disruptive role for digital in other divisions. One division stands out: R&D. We saw at least two global pharmaceutical companies—a top-three firm and a top-twenty firm—that aim to inject digital into their R&D organization. They want R&D to consistently consider the role of digital technology in enhancing therapies; this would expand the scope of digital teams all the way through to clinical trials.

Disciplined Transformation Management Fuels Digital Excellence

Despite their investments in and focus on digital, none of the sixteen pharmaceutical firms we assessed said that they had excellent digital maturity in their capabilities; only four reported that it was good [Report: The State of Digital Excellence in the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2015: Capabilities]. Without basic digital capabilities in place, pharma’s digital transformation efforts will suffer from false starts, leaving ambitions unfulfilled. Each company is uniquely positioned along the journey toward digital excellence and copes with a distinct set of challenges and opportunities. That said, we found several common factors that drive success throughout the digital transformation journey at any company, including:

  • Discipline. The rate at which a firm builds digital capability depends on its ability to align it to the business model and amend day-to-day operations. This in turn depends on many different change management factors, most of which have little to do with technology or digital media, such as the extent to which a vision is in place, whether the executive team drives the vision, whether a plan to deliver the mission is in place, and whether there is sufficient budget, talent, and decision-making power down the line. Measuring digital excellence as a digital capability uncovers a strong relationship between a firm’s perceived level of discipline and its overall digital excellence (see Figure 1). The link between transformation readiness and digital excellence is even stronger (see Figure 2). Firms that systematically manage digital transformation have higher digital excellence maturity than those that don’t.
  • Importance. Digital excellence transformation inevitably changes day-to-day operations—but firms must first acknowledge that digital is important to their overall success. It’s clear from our research that pharmaceutical firms that acknowledge this have higher digital excellence maturity scores (see Figure 3). While most digital teams recognize the importance of digital, we find that marketing organizations still lag behind on this count, failing to see the extent of the impact that digital can have for their brand and customers.
  • Knowledge. Company-wide knowledge about digital media and technologies is a key foundational element on which to build digital excellence. A lack of knowledge can be a twofold disadvantage. First, it slows progress; people can’t pursue a clear set of opportunities that they’re not aware of. Second, it paralyzes the company, because no one can articulate the details of what changes are required to day-to-day operations. We asked senior digital leaders to assess their organization’s knowledge of thirteen key digital capabilities, including email, CRM, and mobile; the data clearly shows that digital excellence maturity increases with how much companies know about digital capabilities (see Figure 4).


Face Digital Transformation Roadblocks Head-on

Discipline in organizational readiness, a sense that digital is important for a firm’s success, and company-wide knowledge all drive digital excellence, giving digital leaders a framework that they can rely on to increase their organization’s digital excellence maturity levels (see Figure 5):

  • Tighten discipline by mapping organizational roadblocks. Many factors can impede digital excellence transformation. Most of them don’t relate to digital media or technology itself, but to the readiness of the organization to change. So digital leaders aren’t just key experts in digital technology and process—they’re also change agents who must actively monitor, diagnose, and solve organizational challenges in order to create and sustain an environment in which digital maturity can flourish [Report: Digital Excellence In The Global Pharmaceutical Industry In 2014].
  • Boost importance by developing an outside-in view. One of the most effective ways to increase the priority that the organization puts on improving digital maturity is by enabling key stakeholders and decision-makers to face external digital realities. Some firms send employees to meet or observe customers doing their jobs. Some digital leaders invite customers to panel sessions with local lead teams; others create an outside-in view by benchmarking competitors’ digital initiatives. Once all stakeholders understand the importance of digital, maintain the momentum by developing a strong vision articulating the desired business outcomes of digital excellence.
  • Deepen knowledge with repeatable master classes. While there are fewer options to deepen the entire company’s knowledge about digital, its impact is often overlooked. One firm discontinued its global digital academy for lack of budget; another only offers electronic training modules. Smart digital leads assess where training is needed most and adjust the training style to the audience. But as firms restructure and marketers come and go, courses must be repeatable and refreshed annually. Going for the gold? Add an external certification and link digital training to individuals’ personal development plans.


DT Associates fielded its Q1 2015 Global Digital Excellence in the Pharmaceutical Industry survey to seventy-eight digital professionals who demonstrated interest in and familiarity with digital excellence as part of their role in a pharmaceutical organization. We excluded thirty-seven respondents from our final sample to include only those who have significant digital responsibility, budget, or oversight of current digital capability (e.g. VPs/heads of digital, digital directors, and digital leads).

We fielded the survey from November 2014 to December 2014 using an online survey tool plus a personal invitation by email. Respondent incentives included an Amazon voucher or a donation to a charity, as well as a copy of a report containing the collected survey data.

Our sample is not guaranteed to be representative of the population. Responses do not convert directly into precise maturity scores for respondents’ respective companies. Unless otherwise noted, data is intended for descriptive purposes.


Tim van Tongeren crc

Tim van Tongeren

Managing Partner

Tim has worked for more than fifteen years with commercial leaders to navigate their strategic and organizational transformations required to thrive on digital technology change. In his current role as Managing Partner, he leads DT’s Solutions and Consulting offerings to advise the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms on how to best achieve customer experience success through digital transformation.

Dennis van Rooij

Managing Partner

Dennis is a recognized expert on how pharmaceutical executives can take full advantage of new digital technologies to bolster their business objectives. He brings a strategic yet pragmatic perspective on digital transformation for the pharmaceutical industry…
Dennis van Rooij crc

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